Embracing flexibility: Learning lessons of the pandemic to rebuild grant-making for the future

Eliza Buckley

By Eliza Buckley, Head of Research & Development, IVAR

Leading in uncertainty

Since March 2020, we have worked with more than 500 Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) leaders through online peer support sessions. Three dominant concerns have been highlighted:

1. Sustaining teams during ongoing uncertainty

The third national lockdown at the start of 2021 left many VCSE leaders feeling overwhelmed, burnt out and concerned about the future of their sector: ‘The tank is becoming dry. I wake up every morning surprised I haven’t crashed. Enjoyment out of my life has gone because I’m so tired.’

2. Longer-term funding

The focus during much of the last 15 months has been on the provision of short-term and emergency grants to organisations affected by the pandemic, but there is little clarity about future plans or prospects: ‘Funding is drying up rapidly. Not sure how I’ll maintain the organisation beyond March. I’m finding this very stressful: I just don’t know where I’ll find the money and we’re paying people’s mortgages, you know.’

3. Planning for the future beyond the crisis

Described by one leader as being ‘like birds in a hurricane,’ organisations are pre-occupied with managing the impact of Covid-19 on their organisation and service users, leaving precious little time to think about the future: ‘The funding system is making it harder for us to plan, yet it wants us to plan. But instinct says I shouldn’t plan too much and need to be flexible.’

Open and trusting grant-making

However, despite very real concerns about both survival and the future, VCSE leaders are also mindful of what 2020 taught them. Throughout the pandemic, organisations have been forced to think creatively, from moving services online to collaborative working. The sector has demonstrated how adaptable, flexible and resilient it is: ‘We’re still standing, we’re still looking forward—that actually is really amazing.’

We have also heard about the huge efforts taken by funders to respondwith agility, flexibility and lightness of touch. To help sustain and advance these progressive funder practices, we have been working with London Funders and a small group of UK foundations and charities to call for funders to adopt eight commitments for simpler, more flexible practices, to help support organisations through the ongoing uncertainty and unpredictability caused by Covid-19. 70 trusts and foundations from across the UK have already joined this growing community of funders, committed to open and trusting grant-making.

These eight commitments are a starting point, as this community is ambitious for change. Not just a simpler philanthropy, that can reflect and accommodate the anxiety and uncertainty of applicants. But also a respectful philanthropy, that recognises that applicants and grantees have assetsactivities, reach, knowledge, expertise, energy and passionthat have intrinsic value and significance. And an inclusive philanthropy, that is resolved to rise to the challenge of breaking down the systemic barriers that exclude and disadvantage so many.

You can read more about how funders are working towards more open and trusting grant-making, and join our community of practice, at www.ivar.org.uk/flexible-funders

Grantees have assets—activities, reach, knowledge, expertise, energy and passion—that have intrinsic value and significance Click To Tweet
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